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Pro-tip: Subject vs. Object Pronouns

2 Feb

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Did your older relatives or teachers ever correct you saying, “It’s him and I,” or “don’t say me,” when you were trying to tell a story?

I think it’s a typical experience of childhood. There’s this idea that saying, “and I” is more proper, or sounds fancy, and that “me” is wrong. I couldn’t begin to tell you why this stigma, for lack of better word, started, but I have good news. Grandma was wrong! At least part of the time.

There is no rule that says “him and me/me and him” is ALWAYS incorrect. It depends on the sentence.

“I” is a subject pronoun. You use it to refer to a sentence subject that’s completing an action. “He and I went to the mall.”

“Me” is an object pronoun. You use it to refer to the recipient of the action in a sentence. “He threw the ball to me and my sister.”

So, take this example:

“After school let out, my sister and ___________ had soccer practice.”

How do you know which pronoun is appropriate? “Me” or “I”…

If you are confident in your ability to identify subject versus object, the answer is clear. If you need more help, I have a trick.

To determine which pronoun fills in the blank, read the sentence one person at a time using each of your options for the blank, “me” and “I.” The sentence should be a complete and grammatically sound sentence even when the second party is taken out of the scenario.

“After school let out, my sister had soccer practice.” Ok, that’s fine.

“After school let out, ___me___ had soccer practice.” Eh. No one talks like that. Do you hear how awkward it sounds?

“After school let out, ____I____ had soccer practice.” Bingo.

“After school let out, ____my sister and I____ had soccer practice.” “My sister and I” are the subjects of the sentence, so it fits the grammatical rule about the pronoun “I,” meaning “my sister and I” COMPLETE THE ACTION. In addition, it passes the  fill-in-the-blank test.

Try another.

“At the bank, the teller gave ____________ and my cousin some candy.”

“At the bank, the teller gave ___me___ some candy.”

You wouldn’t say, “At the bank, the teller gave ____I____ some candy.”

So, “At the bank, the teller gave ___me and my cousin___ some candy.”

Here, “me and my cousin” RECEIVE THE ACTION. It’s not about WHAT they got–candy–but about the receiving in general. They were on the RECEIVING END of the teller’s giving.

Another note about this trick: If you can replace the people in the sentence with “us,” it’s a “me” sentence. If you can replace the people in the sentence with “we,” it’s an “I” sentence.

I hope that gave you a quick way to check your usage when in doubt. It’s rare that any trick for using English grammar has a 100% correct rate. English is full of exceptions. I’m happy to say, though, that this trick ALWAYS works.

Now you can correct Grandma. (I’m just teasing. Be nice to Grandma.)


tl:dr: In a sentence with multiple people and “me” or multiple people and “I,” read the sentence without the other parties and test how it sounds saying “me” versus “I.” Do the people involved COMPLETE THE ACTION (use “I”) or do the people involved RECEIVE THE ACTION (use “me”).

Still struggling? Leave questions in the comments! I always reply.




Pro-Tip: Parallelism in Lists

10 Mar

One of the most common mistakes I see when editing is the use of a list where the tense does not match before and after the comma (,) or colon (:).

The easiest way to decide whether you’ve been consistent in each part of your list is to read your sentence all the way through using only one item out of the list as the completion of the sentence. Each item in the list should create a complete sentence with the phrase that sets up the list independent of the other items given.

Ex: In the study, researchers found that children who went to school hungry: lacked focus, felt fatigued, struggled with following instructions, and acted out more frequently than children not experiencing hunger.

Notice in the example that the phrase leading in the list is in PAST TENSE. This means that all verbs used in list items must also be in PAST TENSE.

To verify the consistency of tense, you can choose any one list item read it as a complete sentence.

Ex: In the study, researchers found that children who went to school hungry struggled with following instructions.

Each list item should complete the sentence correctly in this way.

The same goes for lists set up with commas.

Ex: It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and leave with a box of cake mix, three tubs of icing, and fifty granola bars, but not the milk I went for.

Using just one item from the list, it’s still a sentence because it’s conjugated properly all the way through. And, finally, to check your sentence one last time, you should be able to remove the entire list–that’s everything after the first comma and before the last comma, and still have a complete sentence (subject and verb phrase). The example below displays both concepts.

Ex: It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and leave with a box of cake mix, but not the milk I went for.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading. Leave any questions in the comments section!


Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™





Pro-Tip: Punctuation Quick Fix

4 Jan

Hello, Lovelies! Happy New Year.

Today, I’m giving you a quick list of the top five punctuation mistakes I see most frequently while editing for clients. Now, you can watch for these errors and correct them yourself BEFORE you have to pay someone to find them. Visit the links for full discussions on each topic and examples of execution.

In no particular order:

1-Comma Splice and Missing Comma: Thinking of a comma splice as an extra or unnecessary comma without its accompanying conjunction will suffice for this quick lesson. For a full discussion on the comma splice, see Self-Editing Tip #2. To spot a comma splice, ask yourself if your sentence is actually comprised of two (or more) complete sentences linked by a comma. If yes, is there a conjunction after the comma? If no, it’s a comma splice. To fix it, your options are to add a conjunction after the comma, to change the comma to a semi-colon, or to replace the comma with a period and capitalize as necessary to form to complete and independent sentences. Similarly, a missing comma is identifiable by asking if there are: three (or more) items in a list or series, two (or more) complete sentences connected by a conjunction, or a complete sentence preceded or followed by a dependent clause. Each of these requires a comma between list/series items, independent clauses/complete sentences, and dependent and independent clauses respectively.

2-Uneeded Apostrophes: I see a lot of apostrophes used to make words plural. This is incorrect. The pluralize a word, like going from one apple to many, simply add “s.” Apostrophes are used to show ownership. They precede “s” in possessive nouns and pronouns. In the occasional instance that a plural noun shows ownership over a plural object, the apostrophe comes AFTER “s.”

3 & 4-Incorrect Placement of Quotation Marks & Paragraph Formatting of Dialogue: If you follow the link, you’ll find a full discussion on the purpose of quotation marks and how to (and not to) use them. For this tip, though, I want to assume you already know the basics and focus on where the marks belong in a sentence when there are other punctuation marks in the vicinity. Quotation marks go OUTSIDE of periods and commas at the end of a sentence of dialogue (“Sentence here,” the author said.). Quotation marks precede and follow the word or inner punctuation WITHOUT a space (“Sentence.”). Quotation marks are not necessary at the beginning and ending of EVERY sentence by the same character speaker. Place one at the beginning of a character’s dialogue and one at the end where the character is completely done speaking. 4-The next piece of text, whether narration, description, or another character speaking, will begin on a new line as a new paragraph. (“Sentence of first character is long. There are multiple sentences. You see that there only needs to be a quotation mark at the final end of that character’s speaking. After I’m done here, I will start a new paragraph–new line, indent.”)

5- Hyphens: Knowing the difference between a compound word (one word made of two parts that are, on their own, also words) and two words that we conveniently slap together linked by a hyphen is important. Some words are correct–or at least accepted–written with OR without the hyphen (anti- or anti). Some are not (weekend, not to be confused with weakened, please). In addition, some words have different meanings depending on their usage or lack of a hyphen (makeup, make up, and make-up, the former as a noun for cosmetics, middle as a verb for catching up on something or resolving and issue, and the latter used as an adjective for something being completed after the fact). In most cases spell check functions will either allow any variation because it does not have precise enough understanding of sentence and word meaning. On occasion, these programs will encourage you to correct to the wrong punctuation. Watch out.

Thanks for reading. Happy writing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™


Self-Editing Tip #25–Those Confusing Verbs

10 Apr

Welcome back, everyone! It’s been a while. Today’s tip focuses on these confusing verbs: lie, lay, sit, set, rise, and raise. I am guilty of using these words in the wrong context on occasion. They can get very tricky because of their similar meanings and frequent misuse in colloquial speech.

Perhaps the trickiest on the list is the lie/lay distinction, so we’ll tackle that first.

The word lie, at least in the context of this discussion, means to rest or recline. “Lay” means to place or put. Before considering the rest of your sentence, determine which you are trying to say. Did x, y, or z rest or recline? If so, this is the word you’ll use. If not, lay is probably the right choice, but don’t get these mixed up when writing or speaking in the past tense.

Here’s a chart to clarify before we go on. Notice how “lay” is the past tense of “lie” as well as the present tense of “lay.” This is why it is critical to pinpoint from the start which verb you need to use.

Lie-Lay chart

One way to determine which word is appropriate for your sentence is to look for a direct object in the sentence. The direct object answers what is receiving the action of the verb in a sentence. In a sentence WITHOUT a direct object, you will always use “lie/(is) lying/lay.” In a sentence WITH a direct object, you will always use “lay/(is) laying/laid.” When considering direct objects, remember that they will never be within a prepositional phrase.

Ex. “The book is lying on the table.” There is no direct object in this sentence. “The table” is located within a prepositional phrase and does not count as a direct object.
Ex. “Lay the book on the table.” “The book” is the direct object in this sentence because it answers what is laid on the table.

The remaining pairs, Sit/Set and Rise/Raise follow the same pattern of rules as Lie/Lay.
Here’s another chart.

Sit-Set Rise-Raise Chart

For “sit” and “rise,” follow the same pattern as “lie.” These words do not take a direct object in their sentences.
Ex. “Sit down on the chair.” There is no direct object because “the chair” is within a prepositional phrase.
Ex. “Set the book down on the chair.” “Book” is the direct object because it is receiving the action of the verb “set.” “Chair” is still part of a prepositional phrase.
Ex. “I rise from bed at six.” There is no direct object because “bed” is within a prepositional phrase.
Ex. “Raise the curtains when you get out of bed.” “Curtains” are the direct object because it describes what is receiving the action of the verb “raise.” “Bed” is still within a prepositional phrase.

So, to determine which word is appropriate for your sentence, consider the nuances in definition of the two words in the pair, and then search for direct objects and prepositional phrases.
Here’s a quick reference chart for using these words.

No DO Yes DO Chart

With these distinctions in mind, I wish you happy writing! Comment or email with questions or anything you’d like to add to the discussion.

–Amanda Marsico
Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Self-Editing Tip #22– Commonly Misused/Misspelled Words 2.0

10 Sep

I’m releasing list 2.0 of English’s commonly misused and misspelled words. There are new words on the list for your reference. As always, if you know of any that I’ve left out that REALLY drive you nuts, leave a comment below with the words you’d like me to include when I make list 3.0.

Look at this list of words. Do you know the proper usages?

  • Choose-present tense verb/Chose-past tense verb
  • Loose-adjective/Lose-verb
  • They’re-contraction for “They are”/Their-shows possession of something for more than one person simultaneously/There-points out a place
  • You’re-contraction for “You are”/Your-shows possession
  • To-preposition/Too-adjective/Two-noun, the number
  • Effect-noun/Affect-verb
  • Dessert-what you eat/Desert-where there’s sand
  • Edition-one of a series/Addition-the result of increasing amount or quantity
  • Setup-noun, “The whole thing was a setup, a scam!”/Set Up-verb, “Please set up those folding chairs.”
  • Backup-noun, “Do a full backup of the computer just in case.”/Back Up-verb, “Back up the computer just in case.”
  • Ad-advertisement/Add-addition
  • A lot-This is two words. Always.

NEW EDITIONS as of 9/10/13

  • Breathe-verb/Breath-noun
  • Dose-noun, “A dose of this medicine should make your headache go away.”/ Does-noun, plural of Doe (female deer), “The car almost hit the does.” Verb-third person singular present of Do, “What does the letter say?”
  • Conscience-noun, that part of you that guides morals and inner thought, “My conscience tells me this is wrong.” / Conscious-adjective, having the fully active mental faculties, or being aware of one’s existence, “The patient finally was conscious after three months in a coma, .” OR “He was conscious of his friends’ feelings, so he kept his mouth shut.”
  • The Reese’s Minis Commercial Controversy- Popable vs. Poppable- in order to pronounce the word with the short “o” sound, there must be a double consonant, “p” in this case. However, in this instance, I haven’t found a single dictionary that acknowledges this word with either spelling. The only way to make “popable” correct would be to place a hyphen in there: “pop-able.” Spell check even suggests the hyphenated form when the other two spellings are used. *Side note: does it bother anyone else that huge companies are making mistakes in national (maybe even international) ad campaigns? No one in the company looked at that spelling and pronounced it like “pope?”


This list could go on forever. Additions are imminent.

Originally posted to WordPress and Facebook 7/30/13

Happy spelling!

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Self-Editing Tip #15: Quotation Marks

14 Aug

Quotation Marks

On many people’s list of pet peeves is the misplaced quotation mark. I’m reminded of the episode of Friends where Joey puts air quotes around almost every word because he’s not sure how to use them. It makes for a humorous show, but can really take your credibility down a notch. On a side note, there are slews of people who have a pet peeve about air quotes in general, even when used correctly, but I digress.

Quotation marks in their most common usages 1) set apart dialogue in writing that has speech between characters and 2) distinguish information used verbatim from other sources.

Ex. of dialogue

“Go to time out, John. Is putting your hands on your friends the way you’re supposed to solve an argument?”


“What do you need to do instead?”

“Talk to them or get a teacher…”

Notice when a new speaker takes a turn talking, a new line of text is started and it is indented as if it is a new paragraph (even if it’s just one sentence long).  This rule of dialogue also applies to statements where you might repeat what someone said.

Ex. Did you just say, “I ate cats,” or, “I make hats,” Ken?

Also remember that Standard Written American English requires all commas, question marks, ellipses, etc. that pertain to what the character says go within the quotation marks. Other English-speaking nations put their punctuation outside of the quotation marks. Punctuation that pertains to the sentence as a whole, not the speech taking place, goes outside of the quotation marks (like in the example above).

Ex. of quotation

As a result, the child’s “true identity…remains hidden. This pattern distorts intimate relationships and may continue into adult life” (Schaverien 138).


Schaverien, Joy. “Boarding School Syndrome: Broken Attachments A Hidden Trauma.” British Journal Of Psychotherapy 27.2 (2011): 138-155. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 May 2013.

In this sentence, the quotation marks surround the text which is borrowed, or quoted, from another source. Because I have taken the phrase verbatim from its original author, a source citation is needed in addition to the quotation marks in order to give credit to that author. When summarizing or paraphrasing from another author (meaning your text is not identical to the original source), no quotation marks are needed around the text, but a citation is still required. Failure to cite that borrowed thoughts are borrowed is plagiarism.

Now, back to Joey and his air quotes. Though he placed his quotes in all the wrong places, the concept he was trying to employ was the use of quotation marks to emphasize irony, sarcasm, the unusual, or the unlikely/unreal.

Ex. That “alien” you thought you saw under your bed was really just a pile of dirty clothes and some scary shadows.

Ex. Yeah, we’re too busy “working” to do that.

So, when Joey said he was, “Sorry,” that implied that he didn’t truly mean it. In the graphic, you can see another example of misplaced quotations that disrupt the meaning (semantics) of a message.  It leads you to question whether they actually DO want people to use the bottled water, and whether it really is coffee they’re making with it or not. Simple lesson to take away from Joey and bad signs everywhere: quotation marks do not increase emphasis on a word, change the intonation when read aloud, or magically make ordinary words titles of objects as in the case of “coffee.”

It’s also necessary to place quotation marks around titles of small works.

DO use quotation marks DON’T use quotation marks
Individual Poems and Short Stories Collections of Poems or Stories/Anthologies
Individual Songs Album/Opera/Musical Composition Title
Short Plays Plays with more than 3 acts
Individual Essays Collections of Essays/ Anthologies
Magazine/Journal/Periodical Articles Newspaper/Magazine/Journal as a whole
Episodes of TV or Radio Show Title of Show/Movie
Theses/Dissertations/Reports Conference Proceedings/Legal Cases
Unpublished Writing
Manuscripts Books
Art Exhibits Work of Art

Chart made based on list by: Robin. “Quotation Marks Rules: Grammar Guide.” Hub Pages. Hub Pages Inc. 2013.

Web. 14 Aug. 2013.

The less common occasion of a quote within a quote is handled with the help of two apostrophes. In this case, the innermost quotation will use an apostrophe at the beginning and end of the quotation and the outermost quote will get the full quotation marks.

Ex. As a courtesan, Angellica Bianca, much “’Like the actress [and] the woman dramatist[,] is sexualized, circulated, [and] denied a subject position.’” For actresses and writers, the ladies are prevented from having that subjectivity “’in the theater hierarchy’” (Elin quoted by Herrin 20).


Herron, Shane Michael. “’Ludicrous Solemnity’: Satire’s Aesthetic Turn.” State University of New York at Buffalo, 2011. United States — New York: ProQuest. Web. 28 May 2013.

In this essay on Aphra Behn’s The Rover, I quoted a source who quoted a source. Because the quote I used was already a quote, I had to make the original quote marks into apostrophes and then add my own quotation marks on the outside of them in order to indicate I was quoting a quote. In the citation, I noted for the reader’s clarity that my source, Herrin, quoted a source, Elin. In the end, I was quoting both of them, so they both needed credit. In a works cited page, only the source you get the quote from needs inclusion (even if it is not the original source of the phrase).

Feel free to contact me with any grammar questions you may have (on this topic or others) using the form. I also take suggestions for future topics you’d like me to cover! Looking forward to hearing from you. Write on!

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast


Self-Editing Tip #14: Parentheses

13 Aug


Parentheses are punctuation marks used to set aside information that may be useful to the reader, but not essential. Interjectory information like explanations/clarification, comments, qualifiers, and appositives are appropriate phrases to put inside parentheses. Information enclosed in parentheses gives further detail to a sentence, but when reading, can be totally skipped without negatively impacting the sentence outside of the parentheses. Essentially, you should still have a complete thought/idea/sentence whether the reader chooses to read what’s in the parenthesis or skim over that portion.

Ex. There are five (5) shipping options for your order. –clarification

Ex. The forecast called for rain (but I’ll believe it when I see it). -comment

Ex. You will face (very) harsh consequences for failing to meet the deadline. –qualifier

Ex. Mr. Hart (the author) will be giving a special lecture tomorrow. –appositive

In each of the above sentences, you can skip the portion in parentheses and still understand the sentence. You simply have fewer details about the matter.

When using parentheses, it is important to remember to place the punctuation of the complete sentence outside of the final parenthesis unless the entire sentence is within both parentheses.


The forecast called for rain (but I’ll believe it when I see it).


(The forecast called for rain but I’ll believe it when I see it.)

Also, try not to use parentheses within parentheses. That gets confusing. Find another way to say it.

As for the strange parentheses and/or/maybe apostrophes in the image, neither parentheses nor apostrophes are appropriate for what the sign says (whatever those marks are supposed to be). For more discussion on the image, see Self-Editing Tip #10–Apostrophes.

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